Joint Pastoral Letter
of the Hierarchy of the Philippines
on the Virtue of Justice
Dearly Beloved in the Lord:
“God made man right,” the Ecclesiastes tells us, “and he hath entangled himself with an infinity of questions.” (VII, 30). Lending an ear to the enticement of the infernal serpent, man proposed unto himself the initial question, asking his own self whether he could attain, by his own power, to happiness whilst embracing the evil with which God had threatened him if he should transgress His commandment. And when he so attempted and violated the divine mandate, he lost for himself and his descendants, the original justice in which he had been created and the gift of immortality that went with it, commencing to feel the rebellion of the passions, that engulfed him in an infinity of insoluble questions.
God Almighty, in His infinite mercy, took compassion on man and promised him, at the time of his fall, and sent him, in the plenitude of the ages, “the Sun of Justice” (Malach., IV, 2), Our Lord, Jesus Christ, in order that, allowing himself to be enlightened by the light of His faith and invigorated by the fire of His charity, man might once again possess, through Christ, the righteousness and the happiness he had lost through Adam.
Yet, the world, particularly today, closes its eyes to the light of Christ and will not accept His friendship and grace; thus it is that we find it immersed in a sea of intricate problems arising from the want of justice. Nevertheless, the inclination towards justice has been so profoundly impressed by the Creator upon the human soul, that the world would palliate, with the name of justice, the greatest iniquities.
Thence, the confusion that has been introduced into the human mind concerning this cardinal virtue and the necessity there exists for us, the Prelates, to raise our voice in order to explain to our beloved faithful the nature and excellence of the virtue of justice; towards whom ought we to practice this virtue; and how great is the evil of the contrary vice.
I. Nature and Excellence of the Virtue of Justice
The Angelic Doctor, St. Thomas Aquinas (II-II, 2.58, a.I), defines the virtue of justice in this wise: “Justice is a habit whereby a man renders to each one his due by a constant and perpetual will;” that is to say, justice moves us to give to each one his due always and in all things, and prompts us to translate that will into action at all times and everywhere.
The bare definition manifests the importance of this virtue. It is one of the four cardinal virtues, called thus, for they are like the cornerstones or foundations of a truly christian life, a life that, rising above the senses man has in common with the beasts, and following the dictates of human reason, — so proper to man — and of the faith received from God, opens the way to the temporal and eternal well-being of all men.
Moreover, justice surpasses in excellence all the other cardinal virtues, because prudence, fortitude, and temperance perfect man in himself, make him good unto himself; but, justice makes man good for himself and towards others. Prudence rectifies the practical dictate of reason in regard to the moral goodness or malice of the personal, singular acts; temperance moderates the lower appetite of the sensual delights; fortitude strengthens the same lower appetite against the fear of physical dangers attendant on the fulfillment of duty; but, justice perfects the superior appetite, the will, that moves all the other human powers, even reason itself, towards performing their proper acts, using them and the external things with absolute dominion. The will makes man a master of himself and a lord over his actions; hence it is that man is simply good or bad according as to whether his will be informed by justice or not. Justice is, therefore, the paramount human virtue amongst the main or cardinal virtues.
No longer would the praises heaped upon justice even by the gentile sages seem strange. The prince of Greek philosophers, Aristotle, has said: (Ethos, I., V, c.1): “The most eminent of virtues appears to be that of justice, and there is no evening light or morning star so admirable.” And the prince of Roman orators, Tullius, averred (DE OFFICE 1., I, tit. De iustitia): “The splendour of virtue is at its highest in that of justice, whereby men are called good.” Yet, these praises are far surpassed by those rendered to this virtue by the Holy Scriptures in countless passages such as that in Wisdom (I, 15): “For justice is perpetual and immortal”; and in that of the Proverbs (IV, 18): “But the path of the just, as a shining light, goeth forwards and increaseth even unto perfect day.”
It is Isaias, however, that gives us the praise of justice most worthy of consideration these days. Contemplating the messianic reign adorned with the practice of justice, the prophet exclaims: “And the work of justice shall be peace: and the service of justice quietness and security for ever. And my people shall sit in the beauty of peace, and in the tabernacles of confidence, and in perfect rest.” (XXXII, 17-18). It is true, peace is the proper effect of charity, that unites the affections of the will and the wills in God, by loving God for His Own Self and the neighbour for the love of God (ST. THOM., II-II, q.19, a.III); but, justice must needs start preparing the way, removing the hindrances to peace, such as offenses, and introducing order. St. Augustine writes: “The peace of all things is the tranquility of order. And order is the disposition of things, equal and unequal, that gives them the places proper to each of them.” (De civit. Dei, 1, XIX, c. 13; MIGNE P.L. , vol. 41, col. 640). And what is justice, as understood by all, but the habitual disposition to give to each one what is his due? It is, therefore, evident that justice is the foundation of peace, that peace we anxiously long for. Let us bring it to reality.
II. Towards Whom Ought We to Practice the Virtue of Justice
The proper act of justice, according to the definition of this virtue, is to give to every one his due, what is owed him, as of right, be it in our actions or in the external things we employ in our acts; it always refers to some one else, individually or collectively; and, it always looks towards what is owed to God or to men, to the individual or to society. The greater the right of another, the more would we be bound by justice towards him. We ought, therefore, to practice virtue towards God, the Church, the Country, and individuals.
a) Justice towards God: – We owe to God everything that we are, in the natural and in the supernatural orders; and, although we should surrender whatever we be in both orders, never would our surrender satisfy fully the right of the creditor, Who is Infinite. Hence it is that justice towards God is different in kind from, and is far above, injustice towards men, and it has its proper name: it is called religion.
Religion is the virtue that inclines us to give to God the worship that is due to Him. We ought to render to God Almighty internal worship by firmly believing the truths revealed in the Scriptures and in Tradition, summarised in the Symbol of the Apostles and entrusted to the Catholic Church for their custody and preservation; We expect to receive the eternal glory to which He has destined us, relying, not on our own powers, but on the divine aid, that sanctifies us and helps us do good through the merits of Our Lord, Jesus Christ; and, by loving Him with all our hearts and above all things, willingly desirous of losing all things rather than transgress anyone of the divine commandments.
We ought likewise to render to the Lord external worship, both private and public; not the worship that should cater to the fancy of any one individual or society, but the worship that is due Him, that which has been determined by God the Son made man, our Redeemer, Christ Jesus, when He instituted the Holy Mass and the Sacraments and give to His Church authority to administer them, and, therefore, to determine the prayers and accidental rituals, that would clothe with reverence their administration. All men, therefore, both as individuals and as members of society, for under both aspects they do proceed from God, are in duty bound by justice to render Him the worship He has determined personally and through His Church, the Catholic Church, which is the only true Church.
b) Justice towards the Church: – Man is by nature social: It being impossible for the individual alone to procure unto himself the many and varied things necessary to his perfection, he is naturally bound to join efforts with his fellowmen, in order that, some of them being devoted to certain things and others to some other things, and all together directed towards the common good by social authority, each of them might participate of that common good according to the degree of the needs of his individual perfection. Society is a whole and the individuals constitute its part; and between the whole and its parts there is a double relation of duties: the parts ought to ordain themselves with a view to the common good of the whole, and the whole ought to distribute the common good equitably among its parts. The first duty is the concern of legal or social justice, whereby the subjects order their actions towards the common good and, therefore, towards the good of all their fellowmen. The second duty is attended to by distributive justice, by virtue of which the social authority distributes among the subjects the charges and recompenses in proportion to the conditions and circumstances of each one of them.
But human nature has been elevated by divine goodness to the supernatural end of everlasting glory, that man must likewise achieve in a social manner. Every man is, therefore, subject to two orders, the natural and the supernatural; and he is the subject of two societies, civil and religious; and, towards both we are in duty bound to practise social justice in their respective spheres.
The only religious society instituted by the God-Man, Our Lord Jesus Christ, for the eternal salvation of all men redeemed by His Blood, is the Roman, Catholic, Apostolic Church, of which we become members through baptism, incorporating ourselves to Christ, Who remains the Spiritual Head of the human race and active Sovereign of His Church, represented on earth by His Vicar, the Roman Pontiff. By distributive justice, the Vicar of Christ and, under Him, the Bishops, successors of the Apostles, the Priests and Ministers, that constitute the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy, distribute to the common treasure of salvation, the revealed doctrine, the sacramental grace, the public prayers, the Holy Sacrifice, and the governance of the souls.
Both the Hierarchy and the faithful form only one Church, one Mystical Body of Christ. Consequently, in response to that distributive justice of the Hierarchy, the faithful ought to practise social justice, making use of the spiritual benefits, not only for personal, individual gain, but also for the social good of the entire Church. And just as the body is ordained to the soul and the temporal is subject to the eternal, the faithful likwise are in duty bound, according to justice, to contribute, in the temporal sphere, in keeping with their means, towards the maintenance of the worship and the clergy and for the satisfaction of the ordinary necessities of the Church.
There is yet one point to consider. The Church is our Mother in the spiritual order. She gives us birth through Baptism; rears us to the adult age through Confirmation; nourishes us with the doctrinal teachings and the Holy Eucharist; cures us with Penance; increases us through Matrimony; educates us through discipline and worship; governs us through the Sacrament of Holy Orders; and, lastly introduces us to eternal glory through Extreme Unction and suffrages. Even as we cannot render unto God everything that is owed him, so neither can we adequately repay our parents; that is why, justice towards our parents has a special name, to wit, piety. Leo XIII, in his Encyclical “Immortale Dei ” of 1st November, 1885, summarized thus our pious obligations towards the Church: “The faithful ought further to love the Church as a common Mother and submissively observe her laws and look after her honour and safeguard her rights and endeavour to have those under their care honour and love her with the same piety.”
The practice of social justice and of piety towards the Church is that Catholic Action to which, not only the members subscribed to the organization that bears that name, but, in their own way, all the faithful are bound.
c) Justice towards the Country: – We now call country that civil society to which we belong. Its end is to procure the temporal tranquility of the citizens, providing them with sufficient means for the natural human perfection of this life, that might serve as a basis for the supernatural perfection that has been entrusted to the Church. Grace is superimposed upon nature, not to destroy it, but to elevate and perfect it to a divine degree. It is impossible to attain the supernatural end of everlasting glory if the natural human order is not followed strictly. We are, therefore, bound to practise towards the Country the same virtues of justice and of piety to which it has a right that we ought to practise towards the Church in its own sphere. Both orders are so united by the will of God that it does not depend upon human will to separate one from the other.
Thus, the individuals ought to practise towards the Country social justice, directing all our actions towards the common good. St. Paul explains this obligation to the faithful in Rome, when he concludes his instructions concerning the civil authority with these words: “Render therefore to all men their dues, Tribute, to whom tribute is due: custom, to whom custom: fear, to whom fear honour, to whom honour.” (Rom., XIII, 7).
We ought likewise to practise piety towards the Country, as an extension that it is of the family, so much so that its original name derives from that of Parents — “Patria”. We are born in it and from it we continually receive the natural means for perfection. We ought to love her, honour her, serve her and defend her, if need be, with our blood.
For their part, those invested with social authority, to whatever extent or degree, are in duty bound to practise towards the people distributive justice, making use of their authority or discharging the duties of their offices, not for personal aggrandisement, but for the good of the citizens under their charge and in the proportion due to each one of them without regard of person. And, although this virtue principally belongs to the authorities,it embraces likewise the citizens that dispense the honours or privileges with the decorum and dignity that the lofty aim for which they have been bestowed demands.
d) Justice among the Individuals: – Where the concept of justice more properly finds expression is among the individuals that regard themselves as equals, for justice connotes a certain equality. Thus, when two things adapt themselves mutually to such an extent as to equalise themselves, we say that they adjust themselves. And the same expression, “adjustment,” is employed when two persons freely and in good faith agree to exchange one thing for another by means of a contract. That is why, justice among the individuals is called commutative, for it takes place in commutation by express or implied contract, which demands equality between the things subject of the commutation.
Commutative justice so strictly demands this equality in the things, that if one of the contracting parties, through deceit or violence, should obtain more than what he receives, he would never make his own the excess and would be in duty bound to restore it to the injured party. And if such obligation exacts justice in voluntary commutations, how much more bound to restitution would be those that, without any contract whatsoever, appropriate the properties of others against the will of the latter, and those that unjustly injure their fellowmen, either in their person or in their good name.
It must be noticed that when we talk of individuals, we do not limit ourselves to two individuals or physical persons. Legitimate corporations or moral persons, and, therefore, the very nations and governments themselves, may contract by and between themselves or with concrete individuals. Then, commutative justice sets in with all its exigencies, as if it dealt with two particular individuals. And since moral persons, like physical individuals, may legitimately possess property, real and personal, and have a right to their integrity and their good name, there may be, as between corporation and corporation or a corporation and an individual and vice-versa, a prejudice or injury that would strictly exact restitution from whosoever of them should have violated justice.
By these, beloved faithful, you may realise the importance of this virtue of commutative justice, that must needs regulate the constant relations among men. On the other hand, you well know how difficult it is to observe faithfully the equality demanded of all commutations in the human life. From both these thoughts you may conclude how rightfully is commutative justice, even as a particular virtue, considered as one of the principal or cardinal virtues.
III. The Evil of Injustice
Lastly, we are now to contrast the goodness and beauty of justice with the sordidness and malice of the contrary vice, injustice; in order that with the force of comparison, we may be moved more intensely to practise the virtue and escape the vice.
And to be more precise, although injustice may be committed against all species of justice, we shall limit ourselves to the vice opposed to commutative justice. Injustice in this sense consists in causing undue damage to the fellowman, in his external goods through theft, in his person by homicide, in his reputation by adultery, or in his good name by false testimony and detraction.
The mere enumeration of these crimes causes horror. And all of them are species of injustice. Besides, all of them are opposed to the charity we owe our fellowmen and, are, therefore, mortal sins, for they slay the life of the soul, which is charity. All these are grievously forbidden by Almighty God in the last six precepts of the Decalogue, not only with regard to the external act, but likewise to internal desires. All of them entail the obligation of restitution, each in its own way. To them all may be applied St. Augustine’s saying: “The sin will not be forgiven if the thing stolen be not restored”, when possible (Epist. ad Macedonium, n. 20; MIGNE P.L., vol. 33, col. 662).
In connection with his point we would like to specially consider the following: In the sins of homicide, adultery and detraction restitution of the thing taken away is impossible. Restitution must, therefore, be made through an equivalent compensation so adjudged by prudence. But, in theft, restitution is almost always possible, be it through the return of the very thing stolen or its just value. Let those, therefore, that have stolen or its just value. Let those, therefore, that have stolen and still retain valuable things belonging to others, against the will of their owners, bear in mind that, as long as they do not restore them or their value, they remain in a continuous state of mortal sin, that may not be forgiven them, even if they should go to confession, until they have first made an efficacious resolution of returning them as soon as they find themselves in a position to do so. The lapse of time, however long, does not matter. At all times and everywhere, the adage will still hold true: “Res clamat domino suo.”: All things call for their true owner.
The thief will never acquire a legitimate right to the thing stolen, for the ownership of things can only be transmitted through a legitimate title. He could, perhaps, ignore human justice; but, he will not escape the justice of God, Who has said: “And I will come to you in judgment and will be a speedy witness against sorcerers and adulterers and false swearers and them that oppress the hireling in his wages, the widows and the fatherless; and oppress the stranger and have not feared me, saith the Lord of hosts.” (MALACH., III, 5).
Far be it from you, our dearly beloved, to merit this sentence of the Lord. On the contrary, we are certain that, with the practise of justice in all its species, you will be unto others the good odour of Christ and you will attract with your example many of the wayward, receiving, at length, the reward promised in the prophecy of Daniel: “and they that instruct many to justice (shall shine) as stars for all eternity.” (DANIEL., XII, 3).
That it may thus, we impart to you all our paternal blessings.
Given in Manila, Philippines, this 22nd day of January, 1949.
(Sgd.)+MIGUEL J. O’DOHERTY, D.D.
Archbishop of Manila
(Sgd.)+GABRIEL M. REYES, D.D.
Archbishop of Cebu
(Sgd.)+ALFREDO VERZOSA, D.D.
Bishop of Lipa
(Sgd.)+SANTIAGO SANCHO, D.D.
Bishop of Nueva Segovia
(Sgd.)+CONSTANCIO JURGENS, CICM
Bishop of Tuguegarao
(Sgd.)+LUIS DEL ROSARIO, SJ
Bishop of Zamboanga
(Sgd.)+JAMES T.G. HAYES, SJ
Bishop of Cagayan
SJ(Sgd.)+CASIMIRO LLADOC, D.D.
Bishop of Bacolod
(Sgd.)+MIGUEL ACEBEDO, D.D.
Bishop of Calbayog
(Sgd.)+MANUEL MASCARINAS, D.D.
Bishop of Palo
(Sgd.)+MARIANO A. MADRIAGA,D.D.
Bishop of Lingayen
(Sgd.)+PEDRO P. SANTOS,D.D.
Bishop of Nueva Caceres
(Sgd.)+JOHN VRAKKING, MSH
Bishop of Surigao
(Sgd.)+JOSE MA. CUENCO, D.D.
Bishop of Jaro
(Sgd.)+JULIO ROSALES, D.D.
Bishop of Tagbilaran
(Sgd.)+ALFREDO OBVIAR, D.D.
Auxiliary Bishop of Lipa
(Sgd.)+JUAN C. SISON, D.D.
Auxiliary Bishop of Nueva Segovia
(Sgd.)+RUFINO J. SANTOS, D.D.
Auxiliary Bishop of Manila
(Sgd.)+WILLIAM BRASSEUR, CICM
Apostolic Vicariate, Mt. Province
(Sgd.) FR. LEANDRO NIETO, ORSA
Apostolic Prefect, Palawan
(Sgd.)+ENRIQUE EDERLE, SVD
Apostolic Prefect, Mindoro
The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines
The Official Website of
Joint Pastoral Letter of the Hierarchy of the Philippines on the Virtue of Justice